If starting or sticking to a healthy eating plan is making you feel more irritated than energetic, Registered Nutritional Therapist Jackie Lynch has some fast fixes...

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You might think that feeling tired and grumpy comes with the territory when you’re trying to lose weight or beginning a healthy eating regime, but it doesn’t have to be that way. What, when and how you eat can make a huge difference to sustainable and successful weight loss. If you find it hard to stick to your healthy eating goals because you struggle with tiredness, irritability or overwhelming sugar or carb cravings, here’s some advice to help you to stay on track.

Don’t skip meals

It may seem counterintuitive but skipping meals really won’t help with long term weight maintenance or weight loss. As your blood sugar drops due to long gaps between meals, so will your energy levels and your mood, leaving you feeling tired, grumpy and desperate for a quick fix. Low blood sugar leads to the release of stress hormones which generate powerful cravings for sugary foods or refined carbohydrates to redress the balance. You’re then battling with these stress hormones, and they always win out in the end, which is why many a radical regime has been ruined after two or three days.

How to take action

Try to avoid leaving more than about four hours between meals, or have a small snack to keep you going if you know you won’t be eating a proper meal for a long time. Breakfast is especially important, because your blood sugar will be low first thing in the morning. A well balanced breakfast  will give you the right start to the day, because it can be very difficult to get off the blood sugar seesaw of energy peaks and troughs once it starts. Porridge, muesli or eggs with wholemeal toast are all good breakfast options that help to balance your blood sugar so that you avoid the classic mid-morning energy dip, which in turn leads to cravings.

Eat foods rich in protein

One of the biggest challenges of taking on a weight loss plan is the slight nagging sensation that comes with not feeling satisfied after a carefully structured meal. Eating plenty of protein can make a big difference here, because it helps to activate the satiety response in the body, which tells you when you’re full. Ensuring that every meal and snack contains protein in some form will also help to stabilise your blood sugar and provide sustained energy, because protein is hard to digest and will slow down the release of carbohydrate into the body, thus keeping you going for longer. You’re far more likely to stick to your new regime if you factor in sufficient protein.

How to take action

Foods that are rich in protein include meat, fish, eggs , pulses, quinoa, nuts and seeds. Think about adding a tablespoon of seeds to your morning cereal or porridge or try unsweetened nut butter on wholemeal toast. If you enjoy soup at lunchtime, opt for a protein-rich variety such as lentil or chicken soup and if you prefer a salad, make sure it consists of more than just leaves by adding a fist-sized portion of tuna, cottage cheese or quinoa. Avoid the quick and easy option of pasta with pesto or tomato sauce in the evening and try adding prawns, chopped nuts or even a bolognese sauce to boost the protein content. Try simple snacks such as hummus with carrot sticks or fresh fruit with a small handful (7 or 8) of raw nuts.

Don’t dismiss carbs

Carbs get a bad press when it comes weight-loss regimes, but it’s important to remember that they provide a quick and easy source of energy for the body. I t’s become increasingly common to rule out starchy carbohydrate  such as pasta, rice, bread, potatoes and cereals, but that’s not always the smartest move, especially if you have a physically demanding job or a very active lifestyle. If you find that you’re running out of steam during the day or struggling to exercise effectively, you may want to increase carbohydrate into your diet to ensure that you have enough fuel to keep going. Opting for complex carbohydrates in the form of wholegrain pasta, wholemeal bread or brown rice will help you to maintain stable blood sugar levels and support your weight-loss goal overall.

How to take action

The amount of carbohydrate you need will vary according to your age, build and level of physical activity. A standard portion of cereal for breakfast is 50g, which is smaller than you might think. For lunch and dinner, a fist-sized portion of wholegrain rice or pasta, for example, would be ample for most people, especially as there should also be at least two portions of vegetables which are complex carbohydrates too. If you have a relatively sedentary lifestyle, you may benefit from eliminating starchy carbs in the evening, when you’re less likely to require the extra energy they provide.

Remember to stay hydrated

Keeping your fluid levels topped up is an incredibly important part of any weight management regime. When you’re dehydrated you’ll feel tired, irritable, headachey or light-headed. You’re also more likely to break your diet because dehydration can often generate hunger pangs, as your body assumes that it needs more food to deal with the low energy caused by the lack of fluids.

How to take action

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is the best way to ensure that you’re getting all the fluid your body needs. There’s no fixed amount you absolutely have to consume, because your requirements will depend on age, build, the temperature of your environment and how active you are, but you should be drinking enough to avoid feeling thirsty over long periods and to ensure that your urine is mostly a pale straw colour. If you don’t like water, try adding low-sugar cordial or squash – there are lots of interesting options available such as elderflower or pomegranate. It’s also worth remembering that fruit and vegetables are full of water, so eating plenty of these can provide an extra hydration boost. If you need reminding to top up your fluid levels, try setting an alarm on your phone or download a hydration tracker app.

Factor in a treat

Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your food. It’s especially key to make sure that you buy good quality food, so that you can really savour every mouthful as this will definitely keep you feeling positive and motivated. Planning in the occasional treat is also an important psychological element of any weight management programme because we all need something to look forward to.

How to take action

Take the time to source food that is rich in flavour – for example a tomato or an apple from your local farmer’s market could taste very different from a supermarket product, and may even be cheaper! Think about adding fresh herbs like coriander or mint leaves to salads to liven them up and try garlic, ginger or spices with cooked food. A couple of squares of dark chocolate after dinner could work well as a treat; not only is it low in sugar which ticks the health box but it contains compounds that activate the pleasure sensors in the brain, which will will definitely lift your mood!

Jackie Lynch is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and Author of  Va Va Voom: the 10-Day Energy Diet  (Headline, £14.99)

Visit Jackie's website at  www.well-well-well.co.uk  or you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram via @WellWellWellUK.